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Gilbert’s St. Clair returns from injury, wins NCAA title

 

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Like most kids, Colten St. Clair had high aspirations growing up in Gilbert.

He took to hockey at a young age and soon became one of the state’s top prospects. After a three-year career with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League (USHL), St. Clair was off to play NCAA Division I hockey for the University of North Dakota – a perennial powerhouse.

The Fighting Hawks had not won a national championship since 2000, but all that changed on a warm night down in Tampa, Fla., as North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac University 5-1 at the Amalie Arena, home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The feeling definitely hasn’t worn off and I think it’s just now starting to settle in,” said St. Clair. “Obviously, the first couple nights after winning, your emotions are high and you’re just so excited. Then you get back into town and it starts to settle in a little bit more. Just an unbelievable feeling. It’s something you dream about when you’re 10 or 11 years old playing hockey in the garage. It’s kind of crazy that the dream finally came true.”

That dream almost didn’t happen as early-season shoulder surgery kept St. Clair out of the North Dakota lineup for a good portion of the year. He wound up playing 10 games for the Fighting Hawks at the tail end of the season, but was held pointless.

In 107 career games at UND, St. Clair tallied nine goals and 19 points.

“It was pretty serious surgery and I didn’t know if I’d get full range of motion back in my arm,” explained St. Clair. “It was crazy. Sometimes 2-3 times a day, I’d be doing physical therapy and when I did play, my timing was horrible because I hadn’t played a game in 10 or 11 months. That really takes a toll on a person. At a certain point in the season, you get into a rhythm and for me, I didn’t really get to that point this season until the last month of the season. I felt good in the national championship game and it was just a great way to end your college career, going out on top.”

Back when he was playing in Fargo, St. Clair had several options for college hockey, but when he really started to analyze all the choices, North Dakota was the clear-cut favorite.

“The beautiful Ralph Engelstad Arena is definitely something that will draw your attention right away,” St. Clair said. “Just the following the hockey team gets, it’s cliché to say, but we do have the best fans in college hockey. Every away game we play, it’s like a home game for us because the fans travel that well. It was amazing to see the turnout we had in Tampa and it’s unreal to be part of all this.”

And to think that St. Clair’s hockey career started because of a long line at an Arizona restaurant. Back when he was seven, the family went to a Buca di Beppo restaurant in town for his sister’s birthday, but the wait was 60-90 minutes. Across the street was Chandler Polar Ice (now the Ice Den Chandler), so the family took a stroll. St. Clair saw some kids playing on the north rink and said to his dad, “This looks like a blast.”

And the rest is history.

St. Clair wound up skating for the Chandler Jr. Polar Bears (Mites), Phoenix Firebirds (Squirts through Bantams under Scott McGovern and Kenny Moffatt) and P.F. Chang’s (two years of 18U AAA under Jim Johnson). He was then drafted by Fargo and skated in the USHL as a 16-year-old and started at UND at 20 in 2012.

“Every college team wants to win a national championship or take steps to go in that direction,” St. Clair said. “Here at North Dakota, you’re recruited to win a national championship. It’s unreal to see all the hard work pay off.”

Photo/Russell Hons Photography/UND Athletics

— Matt Mackinder